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Health plan buyers get a look under the hood

The Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2011

Consumers shopping for health insurance will soon get a peek at a new standard form—akin to the nutrition label on food products—that will lay out the details of each policy, from deductibles to how much it might cost to have a baby. Federal regulators are expected to unveil the proposed summary form, part of the health-care overhaul law, on Wednesday, and the requirement is supposed to take effect next March. "Now, every consumer will have clear, easy-to-read, and concise information that tells them what they need to know," said Erin Shields, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services. Officials including Don Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, are scheduled to announce the proposal. Currently, states mandate certain disclosures from health insurers, but they vary by state. The information often comes as part of a document known as the certificate of coverage or evidence of coverage, which can run to dozens of densely written pages and is often supplied only after a consumer has signed up for a policy. Employers offering coverage typically provide materials to their workers, but these also don't follow any common national format.